After high-net-worth divorces, spouses walk away with millions of dollars, shares of valuable properties, and much more. But what happens when this is not enough? What if the spouse decides to push for even more cash? A common option is to pursue further divorce litigation to increase alimony, property division settlements, or child support. However, a recent incident shows that some spouses may pursue a different strategy – one that involves questionable fundraisers. 

Mary Lou Retton Receives $500K After Successful Fundraiser

On January 30, 2024, it was reported that Mary Lou Retton had received approximately $500,000 thanks to a recent fundraiser. Retton is best known for her former career as an Olympic gold medalist, and she won an individual gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles along with four other medals. She was the first American woman to win an individual gold medal in gymnastics. 

In January of 2024, she opened up about her reportedly life-threatening battle with pneumonia. According to the former athlete, she “stared death in the eyes” and came very close to losing her life. This illness reportedly occurred in 2023. Along with almost taking her life, her medical issues left her in a very precarious financial situation, she claims. 

On January 9, 2024, she explained to the Los Angeles Times why she could not afford her healthcare treatments – and why she was forced to set up a fundraising page as a result. She points out that due to her long history of orthopedic operations, she is essentially “uninsurable.” She explained: “That’s the bottom line. I couldn’t afford [health insurance]. Can you believe that?”

Questions Raised After $2-Million Divorce Settlement Comes to Light

After Retton raised about $500,000 to cover her hospital bills, various observers started asking questions. Wasn’t this the same Mary Lou Retton who had received a $2-million divorce settlement only a few years ago? Didn’t she walk away with a number of real estate properties as part of the divorce settlement? Wasn’t she living in a mansion throughout 2022, and hasn’t she been selling numerous properties with price tags well over $500,000 each? Isn’t this the same Mary Lou Retton who sued a medical company for two faulty hip replacements, receiving lucrative settlements as a result?

Fraudulent or Misleading Fundraisers May Be Illegal

It is important to note that a fraudulent fundraiser that misleads the public may be illegal under federal law, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notes that such fundraisers may violate several laws. State laws will likely also apply to these fraudulent endeavors. Possible offenses include wire fraud, securities fraud, and theft. If you are prosecuted under theft laws, your penalties depend on how much money you acquire. While anything under $1,000 would likely result in minor penalties, higher amounts could potentially lead to decades of prison time. 

Even if no money was ever withdrawn from the fundraising account, this may still constitute an “attempt” to defraud others. Anyone involved in the fake fundraiser might also face conspiracy charges – even if no crime was ever committed. As with all criminal offenses, however, those accused of these offenses are innocent until proven guilty. Each case is slightly different. Someone who is legitimately ill might avoid penalties for creating a fundraiser, but what happens if they already have the necessary funds to cover their medical expenses? Assuming that this sick individual never discloses the fact that they are perfectly capable of paying for their own medical bills, this could constitute a form of deceit or fraud.